How My Passion For Skateboarding Became My Livelihood
Hi, my name is Mike Schneider and I am the owner of FlatFace Fingerboards, the largest fingerboard company in the USA!
We make realistic miniature skateboards and anything you can imagine to go along with them, like ramps, rails, and more! Fingerboarding is a hobby that takes skill and focus, and is loads of fun for creative people of all ages! I started fingerboarding at age 9, I am now 30 and still enjoy it every day!
Our customers range from 8-40 on average! FlatFace was started in my early fingerboarding days and quickly grew so large that I had to employ my parents to work for me, which they do to this day. FlatFace is known as a pioneer in the space, and we have done a lot to build up the community and hobby as a whole.
I never imagined that a fingerboard company could be my livelihood, and it hadn’t ever really been done before. After years and years of doing my best, I was able to make it happen!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I went to school and planned on becoming a doctor since I was a little kid. Once I was 17, I realized I was making more money than a doctor would, and I was still in high school. At that point, I decided to keep going with my business instead, and skip college! It was a big risk and a strange change of events from what I always expected to do, but it was worth it and I love every day of it!
I started skateboarding at the age of 8 and loved it! I saw kids in my school playing with plastic fingerboards called Tech Decks, and it was really fun so I joined along. I quickly fell in love with these mini skateboards, and I wanted to improve them. I started modifying them, and eventually made my boards out of wood, from scratch!
Kids in my class wanted to buy them, and then at summer camp too. I made a website for fun, teaching myself basic HTML at a young age, and before I knew it, people wanted to order them!
As I got better and better at the hobby, I was able to tweak my designs for optimal performance, eventually creating what would be known as some of the best fingerboard products around!
I was only in elementary school when I began, and I would reinvest the few dollars I’d earn, to get more supplies, make more boards, and grow naturally from something small to a serious business over time!
I always advise people that if they can grow their business naturally by reinvesting their profits, it is much safer and more sustainable than taking on a loan or investment. You’ll be gradually growing and scaling in a way that works, with less risk and pressure! Plus, you’ll be able to do everything your way.
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
Making fingerboards involves the same process as making a real skateboard, just scaled down small, with very thin wood being glued together in a mold, then drilled, sanded, lacquered, and assembled with additional machined parts. My first boards were made with veneer in my bedroom. To this day they are still handmade!
Over the years I’ve experimented with different woods, production techniques, and tweaking the design for optimal performance. My first boards came out pretty good and people were lining up to buy them, long before the product was perfected!
Making a board is like art, and I love trying out different shapes, sizes, and materials. Each time I make a board I’ll use it for a while to get a feel for it and see what works and what doesn’t.
It’s hard to explain, but the basic reason that my boards are some of the best is because of my many years of experience with fingerboards, knowing how a board should feel, and being able to optimize it for performance based on very small changes that the average person may not even notice. When they try it, they are blown away by how easily it works!
Describe the process of launching the business.
Launching the business happened naturally, and I never expected it to become something big, it was just fun. I was making boards, people wanted to buy them. I put together a website to show my work, which was hand-coded by me with HTML I learned online, around the age of 9. The fingerboard community was just starting to gather online with message boards so that was my main place to talk about and show my work and link to my website. People on the online message boards loved it and started ordering them.
Before I knew it I had too many orders and had to hire my parents to keep up with things like packaging and shipping so I could focus more on making the boards and we could keep it all going smoothly. I never paid for advertising, my brand became popular through word of mouth in the fingerboard community.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Fingerboarding is my passion. I strongly believe for any business to be successful, it has to be built on passion and love for whatever it is that you are selling, the rest will come naturally!
Through my constant improvement and innovation in fingerboards, plus having fun with the hobby in every way possible, FlatFace was a natural winner. I focus on making the best possible products and making them available to those who want them as best as I can. We have a 42% returning customer rate this year, up from 34% last year.
FlatFace has simply all the best fingerboard products, all in one place. There’s a huge variety and it never gets boring, so it’s hard not to come back and try more things, especially if you liked what you got!
My #1 form of advertising is word of mouth! People know about FlatFace, not only the products but also my fingerboard videos on youtube, and the events we have been holding since 2006 to bring the online scene together in real life!
My youtube videos are something I love to do. It’s not focused on money or views, I’ve been making videos since before youtube existed, and have had my youtube account since 2006 as well. Before that, we had to find file-hosting sites and send download links to people. The videos are inspired by skateboarding videos, it’s the same concept.
I make a majority of the videos myself and I’m often filming with friends too, we will film each other in those ones. The videos are all about fun and showing off our fingerboard tricks.
I don’t take it too seriously, and often use ridiculous names for the clips, I have over 2000 videos on my channel now! Some of them have millions of views, most have a few thousand views which are probably mostly core fingerboards.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
FlatFace is doing great, and the way I see it, I’ve never worked a day in my life! While I’m always busy with it, I love what I do and don’t consider it a job! There’s a lot to do and we ship to countries all over the world every single day.
We are a small team and the company has been able to support me, my family, and a few others who help out, too! A majority of our sales are online, and we also sell at our events. The goal is to keep doing what we are doing, and do it as well as possible for as many people as possible!
We take pride in selling handmade items and manufacturing locally as well. We are slowly growing each year at a comfortable pace. Many items sell out faster than we can produce them, and we gradually increase our capabilities, while focusing on retaining our handmade qualities. I like the size and scale of the business because when a company gets too big, it can be hard to keep it how it was. My #1 focus is keeping it “the best” it can be, rather than just the biggest.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
In my over 20 years of business, I’ve sure learned a lot! While business mostly comes naturally to me, there were various challenges in the early years. I mostly focus on successes and what works, rather than dwelling on mistakes or missed opportunities. Every missed opportunity happens for a reason, whether to teach you a lesson or to make way for an even better one down the road!
The best thing I’ve learned is that if you have an idea, just do it. Not only did I make wooden boards, but I was also one of the first to create machined wheels with real bearings inside them! Sometimes you have to take your crazy idea and make it a reality, even if (and especially if!) nobody else is doing it!
I never thought a fingerboard company would be my livelihood, and I was able to make it happen after years and years of doing my best. To this day I continue to innovate and improve whenever I can. I focus on what I’m doing, rather than worry about competition.
I don’t see other companies as competition at all, and I can work with some of the best fingerboard brands in the game in mutually beneficial relationships where we also sell each other's products on our websites!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I keep it simple. Many people overcomplicate things, and I’ve seen so many disasters when businesses scale too large.
At FlatFace, everyone can be in contact easily every day, and everyone knows what needs to be done. There’s never more than one person between me and a worker. We have a great relationship with our website, shipping, etc. and everything is easy and smooth.
All our shipping and packaging are done in-house, as well as our customer service which is done by simple emails. I handle all the product design, website, and every decision overall.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I love to read but I wouldn’t say it affects my business much, and I was barely reading when I started the brand! Haha 🙂
I don’t read for business purposes, and I find a lot of the advice in business environments to be a little bit misguided. Everyone will have their unique journey.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I know many people who’ve gone to business school and keep failing in business, when they ask me for help I can quickly identify a lot of things they did backward or incorrectly based on what they were taught to do, rather than what they should’ve thought to do naturally…
Trust your intuition and do things your way. If your business can start small and gradually grow naturally, putting your profits back into the business is way safer than taking on an investment or loan. Many things can be done from the ground up, and if they catch on, everything works out well and you can scale up at a realistic speed. If you dive into too much at once you can get stuck, or worse.
Don’t waste time or energy on anyone saying negative things, because no matter what you do in life, some people won’t understand. Align yourself with those who do believe, those who are excited, uplifting, and supportive! Anything is possible, I’ve seen a lot of my friends build their successful businesses in similar ways to how I did.
Although I said I’ve never worked a day in my life, you could also say I’m always working. Even when I’m not actively focusing on the business, ideas are always popping into my mind, and you have to live, eat, and breathe whatever it is that you’re doing!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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